On November 1, Meb Keflezighi will run the TCS New York City Marathon, his first marathon since turning 40 in May. If he completes the race—or when he completes the race, if history is any guide—he will be tied with the great Grete Waitz for most New York finishes by a competitive pro athlete.
“It’s a blessing,” he says. “New York is on many people’s bucket lists, and I’m honored to be coming back for the 10th time.”
Three times he has finished on the podium, including a win in 2009. Like Oprah, he is on a first-name basis with the world. A chapter in his autobiography, which recounts his 2009 victory, is titled “King of New York.” Yet he is one of us. Good day, bad day, injury, illness, forgetfulness, fellowship, realizing a dream … Meb has lived it all in those 235.8 miles on the streets of New York.
2002 (9th, 2:12:35): Meb, at 27 years old the reigning American record-holder and 2000 Olympian at 10,000 meters, chooses the New York City Marathon to make his debut at the distance. “I thought I could win it,” he recalled. He takes the lead at 16 miles, but soon pours water over his head that turns out to be icy and, having already discarded his hat, he can’t warm up again. After fading badly after 19 miles, the devastated rookie tells Coach Bob Larsen, “That’s my first and last marathon. I never want to do this again.”
2004 (2nd, 2:09:53): Just 10 weeks after winning a silver medal in the Olympic Marathon, Meb finds himself in a pack of three, including Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa and Timothy Cherigat of Kenya, leading at mile 24. When Meb and Cherigat slow to take a drink, Ramaala speeds away to victory.
2005 (3rd, 2:09:56): With a mile to go before the great Paul Tergat-Hendrick Ramaala duel to the line, Meb’s calf ties up and he can’t match their move.
2006 (20th, 2:22:02): Meb returns ready to contend for victory, but gets food poisoning from chicken fettucine a few nights before the race. When he sees the winning time of 2:09:58, he knows that it could have been his day. “Everything has to click,” he says, recalling that race. “When it does, it’s a beautiful thing; other times it doesn’t, but you have to get to the finish line no matter what.”
2009 (1st, 2:09:15): Meb becomes the first American man since Alberto Salazar in 1982 to win the New York City Marathon. After he sustained a pelvic stress fracture in the 2007 Olympic Marathon Trials, many thought Meb’s career might be over. The inscription on his 2009 medal—If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, New York, New York—still inspires him: “When things get challenging, I take a look at it. It’s a beautiful thing.”
2010 (6th, 2:11:38): Meb finishes as the top American, but discovers that it’s not easy to come into a race as defending champion.
2011 (6th, 2:09:13): Some question the wisdom of running New York just 69 days before the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials, even more so after Meb’s left foot is infected as a result of blistering from a nasal strip he inadvertently leaves in his shoe during the New York race. Despite missing several weeks of training, Meb wins the trials to make his third Olympic team.
2013 (23rd, 2:23:47): Coming in with a calf injury and knee laceration, Meb struggles. At 19 miles he stops to walk. “My dad had to walk 225 miles to Sudan,” he said, referring to his father’s flight from Eritrea in 1981. “A lot of people didn’t get to run New York in 2012. A lot of people didn’t get the opportunity to finish Boston in 2013. There’s no way I’m going to get in that van.” He’s joined and encouraged by Mike Cassidy, a top New York-area runner, and the pair end up crossing the finish line hand-in-hand. “Definitely, 2009 and 2013 are the highlights,” Meb says of his New York career. “Mike said to me afterward, ‘you just gave me my best memory ever.’ I was like, ‘wait a minute; you just got me to the finish line.’ You never know who you’re going to touch, who you’re going to inspire.”
2014 (4th, 2:13:18): On a brutally windy day, Meb finishes ahead of “a 2:03 guy and the Olympic champion,” referring to Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai and Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich. “Pretty cool.”
2015: “That,” says Meb, “remains to be seen.”
By Barbara Huebner
Watch the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon on November 1 on WABC-TV, Channel 7, in the New York tri-state area from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. EST and watch it across the country on ESPN2 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EST.
Enter to win guaranteed non-complimentary entry to the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon now.
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